CUNA Mutes Voices Calling for Change
A loud and growing chorus of credit union leaders is calling for disruptive change at CUNA.
But the messages coming out of CUNA indicate the folks there either can't hear it or aren't listening.
CUNA Chairman Dennis Pierce graciously provided CU Times with an exclusive editorial, sharing his thoughts as he leads the organization to search for Cheney's replacement and into the future.
I'm thankful he chose CU Times to share those views, and can't help but feel bad that my rather ungracious response is to so publicly disagree with him. Especially since he's from my neck of the woods and seems like a thoughtful, dynamic credit union leader.
Nevertheless, I disagree with most of what he wrote in that editorial. Here's why.
Pierce was correct when he wrote that credit unions, and CUNA, are in a better position than they were during the Great Recession.
But can CUNA really claim that victory?
Was it CUNA and its marketing campaigns that drove membership gains over the past few years? Given the terrible press big banks continue to receive, and all we hear about how much Gen Y cares about shopping local and corporate ethics, are those membership gains even a win?
Last year, 2.8 million Americans established new credit union memberships, the most in the past 10 years. But in 2012 and 2011, new member gains weren't any better than they had been before the financial crisis. And looking at a basic bar graph of annual gains, I don't see much change to the trend line.
What about claims of victories on Capitol Hill? CUNA's Don't Tax My CU campaign was smartly executed, and it does appear that credit union lobbyists – all of them, not just CUNA – were successful in keeping the credit union exemption out of the tax reform bill draft.
Then again, more than a few Capitol Hill sources have told me Dave Camp's office assured them months ago credit unions were safe.
So we’ll give CUNA partial credit for successful tax reform lobbying.
However, I think Pierce is stretching when he claimed a major accomplishment in recently passing standalone regulatory relief legislation for credit unions out of congressional committee. That's a pretty vague description, and for good reason: The bill would allow state-chartered, privately insured credit unions access to Federal Home Loan Banks.
I’m sure the 131 credit unions that would benefit from that bill are thrilled to see it advance, but I wouldn't exactly call it a major accomplishment. I’d imagine the lobbyists at American Share Insurance might take issue with CUNA claiming the bill as its victory.
As for change, neither Cheney nor Pierce departed one bit this week from CUNA's existing talking points. All talk of the future revolved around CUNA's existing “Unite for Good” campaign, which is a three-part strategy of removing regulatory barriers, increasing consumer awareness and fostering service excellence.
Could those three things happen without CUNA? Probably so. Deregulation always naturally follows periods of overregulation. Claiming credit in coming years for chipping away at Dodd-Frank and other knee-jerk responses to the causes of the Great Recession is kind of like taking credit for spring after a long winter.
I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think credit unions have made substantial consumer awareness or service gains, or will do so sticking to the status quo.
I had an interesting exchange yesterday with a retired credit union CEO who ran a high-profile shop. This person has been stunned to discover how awful credit union service can be for mere members. More than once, this person has had to rely upon a Wells Fargo account – WELLS FARGO! – when credit unions have fallen short.
I'm also a little concerned and confused by Pierce's statement that a cultural shift in society is driving young people to seek financial products and services "in order to see themselves (and to be seen by others) in a more responsible light."
Perhaps I don't understand what he's trying to say here, but to me, that sounds like the cultural shift of 1974, not 2014. It goes against everything we've heard about Millennials, who supposedly don't want that sort of responsiblity. That's why they don't want car loans, don't want traditional checking accounts that require balancing a ledger, don't want to move out of their parents' homes, and don't even want traditional full-time employment.
Perhaps research at CUNA has revealed those are incorrect stereotypes, and Millennials are eager to embrace credit union products and services. But if that was the case, why isn't it reflected in new member statistics?
There are so many inspiring, innovative leaders that could provide the type of change CUNA so desperately needs.
People like Mike Kelly, president/CEO of payments CUSO PSCU. Evolution in payments could reduce credit unions and other traditional financial service providers to faded memories of yesteryear. A guy like Kelly would be a great choice to keep credit unions relevant in a rapidly changing world.
Or how about Sarah Canepa Bang? She's traveled around the world, sharing and learning about financial services innovations, and nobody else in the industry has her “it” factor. Hundreds of CU Times readers clicked all the way through a photo slide show of this year's Wegner Awards just to see what she was wearing. Seems to me she has a win-win combination of smarts and star power that could be leveraged even further than a vice president's position at CO-OP.
But is CUNA even courting these two?
I haven't heard their names circulating among the chatter of possible candidates. In fact, the names I’ve heard represent the status quo.
CUNA doesn't need to re-install Mica2.0, just an updated version of Dan Mica's agenda. It needs a full core conversion. Change of that magnitude is difficult, risky and scary. But just like the future of a credit union can be limited by an outdate core system, so goes the future of CUNA and the entire credit union movement.